Monday, April 25, 2011

The running chronicles, Egg Shell Shuffle

The Egg Shell Shuffle was a great way to kick off Easter weekend.  Conditions were great for running, it was cool but not bitter cold, there was a breeze but not strong wind, and the sun was gently hidden behind the clouds, waiting until later in the morning to make a full appearance.  I could have done without the little bit of wind that did strike before the race while we stood waiting to start. 
Can you say mud?  After several days of rain, there was more mud than grass in the area surrounding the pavillion where we all huddled.  Awesome.  Seeing all the mud made me a little afraid of what this race was going to look like.  Trying not to jump to conclusions, we simply stepped carefully and tried to stay on the concrete under the pavillion as we waited for the start.

The 1/2 marathon shot off 15 minutes before the 5K.  It was a good sized field for the 1/2, and it was a good crowd cheering them on, including us 5K'ers.  Aaaaand - they're off.  And now we wait.

So we're standing there minding our own business, when out from the parking lot comes this huge Easter Bunny!  I kid you not, the Easter Bunny was suited up, bib on, chip timer on the ankle, ready to race.  Hysterical.  The bunny looked like he could stand another meal or three, so we assumed this was a slim, running bunny, and the bib and chip timer were the convincing factors.  Yep, the bunny ran the 5K.  And to foreshadow - we passed him.  Rock on!

Tangent alert! {don't worry, it will all come full circle in a few minutes}
OK, so a couple weeks ago when I got my race packet for the Shamrock Shuffle 8K, a random guy {Runner Dude} chatted me up when I was taking my daughter to the bathroom.  He seemed to recognize me, asked if I was doing the 8K, how I wanted to do, wished me luck, the whole nine yards.  No clue who this guy is.  So I was telling my friends this little story while we waited for our race to start.  Not long before our start, who should appear before my very eyes - Runner Dude.  No eye contact was made.  Who is this dude?  More on that later.

OK, back to the race. 

A loosely gathered start line, Katie* and I chose our position in the pack.  Our first choice, a nice open pocket about 1/4 way from the front, seemed OK until I noticed that one of the women in front of us was wearing Shape Ups.  Ya, not a good one to start behind, she's most likely not in this for speed.  Let's move further up.  And we did.  We found a spot among what we assumed were some more serious runners.

The start was uneventful, but crowded.  Running on the small path that winds through the Forest Preserve is not easy with a few hundred runners all trying to break from the crowd and find their pace and space.  We were able to pass quite a few people to start out, albeit on the grass.  It just feels good to pass people, you k now?  Somehow, the Easter Bunny was in front of us, going at a decent clip.  That really didn't matter, I just wanted to get out of this tight pack of feet flailing around me. 

It always amazes me how little control some adults have over their extremities when they run.  Arms all over the place, legs literally swinging to the sides, I often wonder how they are moving in a forward direction, and it's honestly pretty distracting to watch someone battle themselves like that.  I knew we would be in trouble unless we got around the girl running like Phoebe, and luckily we found an open pocket and dashed around her, leaving her well behind us. 

The course was a very basic "there and back" course.  We ran about 1.5 miles one direction, turned around and ran back to the finish.  At one point there were signs saying "turn around ahead", and I was really anticipating some sort of cul de sac style turn around.  Oh no.  We were nearing the water station, my friend, Alan*, passed us in the other direction, and I looked ahead to see where we would turn around.

I have to interject that it was here, at the water station, where we passed the Easter Bunny!  He stopped for water long enough for us to pass him up and leave him in our dust!  Yeah us!! 

I declined a beverage, looked ahead, and - THERE!  We turned around.  BAM!  Just run, turn the other way, and go back the way you came.  No cul de sac, no gentle corner or bend, just a full 180.  It took me by surprise but I recovered right away, and we were on our way back to the finish line.

I'm glad I had a new play list because it messed with my head enough when I thought I saw the finish line not far in the distance, only to realize we had some winding to do on the path and it really was farther than I thought.  With the new play list, I wasn't counting on a certain song to come on to let me know I was at 2.5 miles, 2.9 miles, or anything like that.  I was really trying to enjoy the run, keep a good pace, and make sure I didn't slow down too much so I could get a personal record time.  We were pretty home free on the last mile or so, with only a couple people ahead of us and nobody passing us.  I don't like being passed.

The whole course, to this point, was on the paved path.  No "off-roading", no changes in terrain.  Katie and I saw the finish line, and we signaled each other to sprint to the line.  Assuming we were finishing on the path, we took off.  We were probably a good 1/4 mile from what we thought was the line, so we did our best to speed up as much as we could.  There's nothing like hauling ass to the finish line, only to realize that the finish line isn't where you first thought it was.  We had to turn.  On the grass.  The grass was mud.  And it was a small stretch on the mud to the real finish line.  Thank all that there is to thank that we started to sprint when we did, or we'd have been trying to gain finishing speed in the quicksand that was the final stretch.

As we raced for the finish line, we saw the clock which read "25:20" (or close to that), and we put the after burners on.  As we hit the mud I saw the clock roll to 25:55 and I tried that one last boost for the finish, and Katie and I were seconds apart.  We crossed the finish line at 26:03 and 26:04, Katie edging so slightly past me there at the end.  We rejoiced in our victory over our previous personal best time, which we set in the Shamrock Shuffle two weeks prior (26 and change).  It felt great.  We were fast.  We were Hot Confident, baby!!!!

We tried to hit the brakes as we crossed the line, which wasn't really that tough considering we were in a mud pit.  Before we knew it we were being hunted down by volunteers who were grabbing for our ankles before we were even stopped.  Only in running can one grab for someone else's ankles, even lift the hem on their pants, and not get slapped or even arrested for lude behavior.  We conceded and let them grab for our ankles and retrieve our timing chips.  We took a couple minutes to try to walk off the excitement and loosen the legs.  No easy feat in the mud.  As we turned to return to the pavillion and find solid ground, we saw that Katie's husband and three kids had come to cheer her (us) on.  It was really great to see them at the finish.  It's always nice to have someone there who will smile at you and give you a hug while you're drenched in sweat and you gasp for air, telling you what a great job you did.

Crap, we just ran really fast!  We did it!  That was great!  We celebrated, speculated our position in the final scoring, and watched as other finishers crossed the line and landed in the mud.  Including the Easter Bunny.  We smoked him! 

And here is where the inuendo was running rampant.  The post-race brain is a thing of wonder sometimes. 

Only after a race can a man get away with asking multiple women, "Want a massage?", or "Care for a back rub?".  And only in that setting could a woman gladly accpet and make it verbally obvious how much she's enjoying herself, without being looked at like she's violated some unspoken moral boundaries.  Only in running can someone gleefully declare that they "...beat the Easter Bunny!" and not get stared at as if they have dashed the hopes and dreams of children everywhere.  And only in running can you get edged out of the top 3 by your good friend, leaving you empty handed and your name not announced, and you still celebrate her victory and really don't care that you're not going home with another beer glass, sticker, water bottle, or other symbol of your achievement.  No really, it was fine, and I'm really happy that we killed that race together.

Because all that matters is the time on the clock as you finish, and the fact that you ran the hell out of that race.

I helped Katie and her husband return the three kids to the car, so they didn't all look like they'd just been to a mud volleyball tournament.  As we walked to the car, who should happen to see me, make eye contact with me, and chat me up?  Runner Dude.  Dude!  He was really cheerful as he asked me how I did, congratulated me, and parted with "Great race" or something to that effect.  I really don't know how he closed the encounter because I was so taken aback that he was so enthusiastic talking to me, and I honestly can't identify him! 

We parted with the family and made it back to the car where we warmed up before heading out of the parking lot.  As we drove out, we passed a trio of runners coming in the other direction, one of them being Runner Dude!!  Dude!!  With a full arm (shoulder to finger tips) wave, huge smile and enthusiastic voice, he bid us adieu as he and his pals jogged back toward the pavillion, leaving Katie and I laughing in the car as we left the parking lot.  How totally random that someone would recognize me on multiple, pretty much unrelated occaisions, and I can't place them for the life of me.  The mystery of Runner Dude continues, who knows when the next encounter will occur.  Stay tuned.

Four races under my belt for the season so far.  Eight months left in the year.  Lots more races to go.  Bring it on.

*Names have been changed because that's what you do when you talk about people on the internet.